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The Ten Thousand Things Paperback – July 31, 2002

4.2 out of 5 stars 37 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

First published in 1955, Dutch author Maria Dermo–t's loosely autobiographical The Ten Thousand Things, trans. by Hans Koning, is now back in print in English. Felicia, who grew up with her Dutch grandmother on an Indonesian island, returns there from Holland with her young son, Himpies, after being robbed and abandoned by her husband. Known by the locals as the "young lady of the Small Garden," she settles easily (despite her superstitious and imperious grandmother) back into the customs and rhythms of the island, eventually accruing enough wealth to live very comfortably. Tragedy strikes when Himpies, who has grown and joined the army, is killed. A new set of characters is then introduced, throwing the narrative off somewhat, but the focus returns to Felicia at the end, as she tries to make sense of the deaths that have shaped her own life. Dermo–t beautifully depicts the idyllic setting and handles the darker aspects of the story-ghosts, superstition, even murder-with equal skill.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Review

“Fans of magic realism will be thrilled to discover a long out-of-print Dutch classic...Dermout writes exquisitely and hauntingly of murder and loss, tolerance, and fear of “the other.” --Library Journal

"Dermoût beautifully depicts the idyllic setting and handles the darker aspects of the story—ghosts, superstition, even murder—with equal skill." --Publishers Weekly

"An offbeat narrative that has the timeless tone of legend." –Time

"Mrs. Dermout, in the manner of Thoreau and the early Hemingway, is an extraordinary sensualist. But her approach is not the muzzy, semi-poetic one in which the writer damagingly affixes his own imagination to what he sees. Instead, her instinct for beauty results, again and again, in passages of a startling, unadorned, three-dimensional clarity; often one can almost touch what she describes." –Whitney Balliett, The New Yorker

"Beautiful and eerie" -–The Atlantic

"I might add that the books we return to are informed by potencies—those objects that illumine the text and our own memories. I am thinking of Maria Dermout’s magical The Ten Thousand Things." –Rikki Ducornet, novelist

"This [The Ten Thousand Things] is a beautiful book. What’s curious, you get the tone that makes you recognize that Michael Ondaatje is part of a culture, not simply a singular writer; he's part of a whole way of seeing reality." –Robert Creeley

"A son murdered by the head-hunters of Ceram. Three ghost-sisters playing on an empty beach. The curiosity cabinet and its contents. As the story circles on itself, they number in the thousands, so that anything once loved is eternal, beautiful, unchanged." –Linda Spalding, in Lost Classics
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Product Details

  • Series: New York Review Books Classics
  • Paperback: 296 pages
  • Publisher: NYRB Classics (August 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 159017013X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590170137
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #284,033 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
The Ten Thousand Things is an uncommonly
odd book. Yet there is an undercurrent of
almost suffocating pressure that "betrays"
the
sometimes modest exposition. It fits into no
particular category - magic realism would be the
first term that springs to mind - yet the wonderful
review on the back flap makes allusions to
Hemingway.... It cannot be pigeonholed. " I fear
the
man of one book," (to paraphrase St. Augustine)
and I feel his statement corroborates well with
Dermout's gorgeous novel.
The exposition is odd yet simple. Her
descriptions are so sharp that at times, at the risk
sounding silly, they flash off the page.
There is no doubt in my mind that this
book
has been overlooked. I
would feel no remorse in suggesting
this book to anyone.
The "inner bay," "the outer bay," and the
garden near the old woman's house
are presented in
a robust and intriguing manner, far more gut-
wrentching than "The English Patient" for my
tastes.
The Ten Thousand Things is a dreamy
fairy tale with a savagely
imaginative moral that is far more subliminal
than I feel most people, on a haphazard reading,
might suspect
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
"She knew that a bay and rocks and trees bending over the surf cannot relieve sadness -- can sadness be relieved, or can one only pass it by, very slowly?"

In my reading over the past decade, I have really come to trust the reissues of the New York Review of Books -- works of fiction, predominantly foreign, that have undeservedly slipped out of circulation. They do for older literature what the Europa Press does for contemporary: open the reader's eyes to a wide range of geographical locations, subjects, and narrative approaches. There are many hits but few misses, and even the oddball books that are hard to classify are fascinating in their oddness.

So it is with this unique novel by Dutch author Maria Dermoût, first published in 1958. How to describe it: a ghost story, a generation-spanning romance, a tropical idyll? It begins as a novel, then dissolves all the conventions in a series of apparently unconnected stories, only to pull it all together in a final chapter resonant with the echoes of old losses and present joy. But let's start with the beginning: "On the island in the Moluccas there were a few gardens left from the great days of spice growing...". On one of these, on the Inner Bay, lives a widow, an old Dutch settler, known as "The Lady of the Small Garden." She has a grand-daughter, Felicia, who grows up among the plants, shells, and animal life of the bay, an idyllic childhood full of discovery and imagination. Full, too, of the imagination of others: the beliefs of the island people, the visits of the old Bibi selling objects with special powers, the collections in her grandmother's curiosity cabinet, and the ghosts of three little girls in pink who died long ago on the same day.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Dermout's classic novel is the kind the New York Review of Books Classics loves to bring out: a cult favorite with a one-of-a-kind flavor. The dreamy, simple tone belies the extreme formal complexity of the work: actually consisting really of a novella and several appended tales, the work brings everything together at the conclusion. This is a book to be read and re-read; its mysteries are not readily plumbed but are rewarding nonetheless.
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By A Customer on September 8, 2001
Format: Hardcover
I can see why some would compare the writing style to Hemingway, but Dermout's imprint is clearly a feminine one. The language is simple and the sense of nostalgia it conjures is rich and complex, but it is never tinged by the scent of spilled beer - rather, crushed flowers. This is a dreamy tale with a core of sadness. Read it aloud to someone and notice how your appreciation of the story grows.
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Format: Hardcover
"They let themselves drop, their fins upright, as if they were drowning, rose again; they kept together, swam over and under each other, carefully, not touching, with a strangely thoughtful yet casual grace. "Then, as unexpectedly as they had risen, they dropped down into the deep and did not reappear."
I am glad my sister recommended this book to me. It goes to show the best books are in many cases the least popular. With one eye on passage above (read the book to find the wild Proustian metonymical link symbolized by the turtles) , I wonder why The Ten Thousand Things is not more popular. The book is thoroughly steeped in the rhetorical tones of Hemingway; yet the effect is unearthly enough to elude any categorization. Time will reveal the books timeless appeal: in a just literary world this masterpiece would be in every bookstore. Thoroughly weird, thoroughly normal, the book is a lamented reflection of time and death through an irridescent mirror.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Much has been said in praise of this book before, so I would only like to add that not only is it beautifully written, but it also reflects a deep understanding of the place where the story unfolds. Thus the author paints a realistic (though sad) picture of the Moluccas and their people, rather than just using them as an exotic background to her story.
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